Declining world oil supply, widening income gaps and over-exploitation of global fisheries were just some of the bad news Jon Erickson delivered in his talk at MSU this past Monday. But Erickson’s lecture, “An Ecological Economics for the Century of the Environment,” wasn’t actually about an impending doomsday. Erickson, who is a professor and managing director with the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont, emphasized how ecological economics can help save the planet. He also announced an opportunity for the MSU community to become involved in this discussion.
Studying economics through an ecological perspective is a return to amore holistic look at economic development where an economy’s sustainability is considered in relation to the dependent ecosystem. This means a forest is valued not just for its timber, but for all its ecosystem services, such as carbon storage, recreation, and pollination.
Erickson is critical of theories that characterize the economy as a closed system in which goods and services are simply exchanged between producers and consumers. For Erickson, these theories are insufficient because they do not consider the economy’s dependence on the environment as a source of raw materials and as a sink for pollution. “Where’s the environment and where’s the waste,” he asks.
Ecological economics understands the economic system as embedded within the ecosystem. In a world where natural resources like oil and water are only becoming scarcer, such a new, integrated perspective is necessary, says Erickson. He calls for a transdisciplinary approach. “Problems don’t sit neatly in disciplinary boxes,” he said. This type of economics challenges an idea fundamental to traditional economics: individuals are rational, isolated and self-serving beings. Erickson asked: “Who are we and where are we headed?” “Do we care about the future? About each other? Do we care what other people think?”
While these questions may seem more related to philosophy than economics, Erickson is confident in this new approach. As president of the U.S. Society of Ecological Economics (USSEE), he will be leading a larger discussion of this topic at MSU on June 26-29, 2011 when the USSEE hosts its sixth annual biennial conference, “Building a Green Economy,” in East Lansing.
“Michigan was chosen as the conference site because it is a kind of backdrop to the national dialog on the need for transition to a new economy that is not only environmentally sustainable, but…also socially just and equitable,” said Robby Richardson, an assistant professor in the Department of Community Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies and an ESPP affiliate.
Richardson is the conference chairperson and arranged for Erickson to speak. “The MSU community is already engaged in the design and delivery of curricula, research, and outreach programs that are interdisciplinary and innovative, and I am delighted that we are able to host this conference at MSU,” he said.
Interested in attending, presenting or contributing a paper? For more information on the conference, visit http://www.ussee.org/, and with any questions contact Richardson (firstname.lastname@example.org or 517-355-9533)
Written by Liz Pacheco (email@example.com), News Writer for Environmental Science and Policy Program.